United States President Barack Obama headed to Capitol Hill today, July 31, 2013 to meet with House of Representatives and Senate Democrats to discuss his legislative agenda for the fall session. Obama has renewed his focus on the economy in advance of a fight this fall with Republicans over the budget and raising the debt ceiling. The President wanted to reassure Democrats that there would be no fight in raising the debt ceiling and he would not back down from his position before the Congressional summer recess begins on Friday.
President Obama had separate meetings with House and Senate Democrats where the far ranging topics focused predominantly on domestic policy, the economy, debt-ceiling limit, immigration reform, gun control, voting rights, and the implementation of his sweeping 2010 healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act. Obama also defended Lawrence Summers, Obama’s former National Economic Council chairman, who it is suspected Obama is considering for Federal Reserve chairman after Ben Bernanke’s term ends.
Obama first met with the House Democratic caucus for an hour and when he left he emphasized his policy for the fall telling reporters waiting “jobs, middle class, growth.” He then proceeded to the other side of the Capitol and spoke for another hour with the Senate Democratic caucus.
The President faces a showdown with Congressional Republicans this fall for the new fiscal year’s budget, which starts on October 1, and the debt-ceiling that needs to be raised once again. The President and Republicans remain at odds perpetually over taxes, spending and deficit reduction.
The meeting ended with both houses firmly behind the President’s economic and legislative plans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said; “We had a very enthusiastic meeting.” While House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) claimed; “The president made it clear that while he was prepared to work with our Republican colleagues, he was not prepared to put at risk the creditworthiness of the United States of America.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated; “Our door is open, we’re ready to work with anyone who wants to the right thing for the economy and the middle class. And so is the president.”
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner spoke to the press in response to Obama’s position on the debt ceiling; “I’m confident that when we get into the fall, we’ll find — it may be a messy process, but I suspect we’ll find a way to get there.”
Obama’s meeting with House Democrats included a surprise when Pelosi presented the President with a birthday cake, of chocolate icing with the Presidential seal in the middle which read “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” Pelosi apparently joked that the “Secret Service said no candles,” while Democratic caucus vice chairman Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) led a serenade of “Happy Birthday.” President Obama turns 52 on Sunday.
That was not the only surprise of the morning meetings; Obama’s Senate meeting had an unexpected guest when Republican Senator John McCain accidently opened the door to their meeting room, Lyndon B. Johnson room, where Republicans usually hold their meetings. McCain’s spokesman clarified the situation; “He opened the wrong door and the president and everyone laughed. He didn’t participate in the meeting.” The joke did not stop there, making the rounds online and on Twitter.
Since last Wednesday, July 24, 2013, President Obama has embarked on a jobs and economic inequality tour that was launched at a Knox College speech that refocused his economic vision for the remainder of his term with an emphasis on jobs creation and improving the position of the middle class.
Yesterday as part of his tour, Obama unveiled a plan in Chattanooga, Tenn. trying to persuade the Republicans to agree with it in order to avoid a budget showdown this fall. Obama reiterates in each of his speeches on this economic tour as his did yesterday a commitment to bettering the economy; “I’m going to be focused for every one of the 1,270 days I’ve got left in my presidency on how to make sure that we’ve got more opportunity and more security for everybody who is willing to work hard in this country.”
Obama’s “grand bargain” proposed lower corporate taxes in exchange for the Republicans supporting a middle class job creation program which would include an increase funding for infrastructure projects around the country, programs to boost manufacturing and training programs.
The plan was the first concrete proposal Obama announced since beginning his economic tour and is supposedly the first of a number ideas and initiatives the president will present as he continues touring and speaking about the economy this summer. The “grand bargain” plan however was not that new; Obama was combining two old proposals that have failed to progress in Congress.
Obama announced his plan stating; “If folks in Washington really want a ‘grand bargain,’ how about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs? If we’re going to give businesses a better deal, we’re also going to give workers a better deal too. I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs. That’s the deal.”
The Republicans immediately opposed the plan; they do not support a tax code overhaul that excludes individuals, and they believe tax reform should allow for further tax cuts not for increased spending. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker Boehner responded that “It’s the opposite of a concession.” While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) responded “The tax hike it includes is going to dampen any boost businesses might otherwise get to help our economy. In fact, it could actually hurt small businesses.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wrote an op-ed published in USA TODAY denouncing Obama’s speech, concluding; “What the president is really offering is to replace government by the people with government by the experts. So he might call his plan a grand bargain. But I call it a raw deal.”
The debate over the budget and the debt-ceiling has been an ongoing drama between a Democratic president and a Republican Congress with ideological differences on how to best proceed with the economy, which has often lead to a stalemate. The White House believes that Republicans are forcing a potential government shutdown and is worried the affects it could have on the government and the economy; Republicans have denied it. As always the showdown this fall between Obama and the Republicans promises to be interesting, but hopefully they can get past partisanship to peacefully agree on a solution that will not interrupt the lives of the American public.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.